Halifax W7657 was one of eight No. 35 Squadron aircraft detailed to attack Saarbrucken on the night of the 19th / 20th September 1942.
Its six-man crew comprised:
- James Hardy Marks (Pilot)
- Alan James Child (Observer)
- Reginald John Lambert Sawyers (WOP / AG)
- Norman Harry Wright (Air Gunner)
- Richard Langton Leith-Hay-Clark (Air Gunner)
- William G Higgs (Flight Engineer)
W7657 failed to return and the squadron’s Operations Record Book shows “Took off carrying 9 x 4 flares and 6 x 250lbs incendiaries. This aircraft failed to return and nothing was heard of it after take-off”
Wartime activities relating to the loss
On 20th September 1942 the squadron informed Bomber Command, the Air Ministry and the RAF Records Office that the aircraft and crew were missing.
A telegram, along with a follow up letter from the Commanding Officer, was sent to the next of kin of each crew member advising them that he was “missing as the result of air operations on 19th / 20th September 1942”.
The crew’s kit and personal belongings were removed from their lockers and catalogued; kit was returned to stores and personal belongings sent to the RAF Central Depository at RAF Colnbrook.
The Air Ministry Casualty Branch, which was responsible for investigating, monitoring and reporting on the status of missing aircraft and airmen, subsequently published the following information regarding the crew:
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 209 (Flight 18/03/1943) reported JH Marks, AJ Child and RL Leith-Hay-Clark as “missing, believed killed in action”
- Air Ministry Casualty Communique No. 271 (Flight 02/09/1943) reported JH Marks, AJ Child and RL Leith-Hay-Clark, “previously reported missing, believed killed in action” as “now presumed killed in action”
Note: Presumption of death enabled a death certificate to be issued; personal belongings could then be sent to next of kin, along with any monies due.
No. 35 Squadron’s Operations Record Book shows the following information was received relating to the crew:
- 23/10/1942: Notification received that S/L Marks, P/O Child and P/O Leith-Hay-Clark, lost on 19th / 20th September 1942 were killed but the remainder of the crew were taken prisoner
Crew members who survived the crash and were captured / imprisoned
RJL Sawyers, NH Wright and WG Higgs survived the crash and were captured, interrogated and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.
Their POW Liberation Questionnaires, which were completed as part of the repatriation process at 106 Personnel Reception Centre, RAF Cosford, in 1945, show the following details:
- RJL Sawyers (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Imprisoned: Stalag Luft III
- NH Wright (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Captured: Betrayed in France?
- Imprisoned: Stalag VIII-B, Stalag 344, Stalag Luft III
- WG Higgs (POW Liberation Questionnaire yet to be obtained, so information is unconfirmed)
- Captured: Injured?
- Imprisoned: Stalag IX-C, Stalag Luft I, Stalag Luft VI, Stalag 357
Post War search for the missing crew members
After the war, an investigation officer from the Royal Air Force Missing Research and Enquiry Service (MRES) was tasked with locating the remains of the missing crew member(s).
Original German documents, burial records and eye witness accounts were utilised to establish the location of the crash site, the cause of the loss and the initial fate of the crew; information was recorded in a MRES Investigation Report.
As part of the process, any remains that were located were exhumed, identified (wherever possible) and concentrated (reinterred) at one of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Cemeteries in the country that they fell, in accordance with Government policy at the time.
Graves were marked with a simple wooden cross, which was replaced by the familiar CWGC headstone during the 1950’s.
Missing airmen who could not be found, or formally identified, had their names commemorated on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede, which was unveiled in 1953.
CWGC records show that their remains of JH Marks, AJ Child and RL Leith-Hay-Clark were located at St Dizier Communal Cemetery
Their remains were exhumed, identified and concentrated (reinterred) at CHOLOY WAR CEMETERY as follows:
- CHILD, ALAN JAMES, Flight Lieutenant, ‘116134’, Grave 2A. C. 6.
- LEITH-HAY-CLARK, RICHARD LANGTON, Pilot Officer, ‘126897’, Grave 2A. C. 8.
- MARKS, JAMES HARDY, Wing Commander, ‘39670’, Grave 2A. C. 7.
Theo Boiten (Nachtjagd Combat Archive)
Nightfighter Claim: Lt. Ferdinand Christiner, 4./NJG4, Near Blesme (Marne), 2600m, 01.07
WR Chorley (Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War)
Shot down by a ME110 and crashed at Blesme. Higgs landed across a railway line and broke a leg
Bomber Command Loss Card
- Shot down by nightfighter; wing set on fire; pilot gave order to abandon;
- Pilot and rear gunner found in wreck, navigator nearby.
- Higgs: Broke leg landing after baling out; landed on a …… railway line?.
- Dead crew members initially buried at St Dizier
[Courtesy of IBCC Memorial Database Project]